HAUNTS OLD AND NEW IN A FAVOURITE CITY
RETURNING TO MEXICO CITY POST-COVID, we felt every bit as welcomed and comfortable as we did the first time, 20 years ago, when the city first captured our hearts with its myriad offerings of maíz, mezcal, and museums.
We wanted to revisit some of our old haunts and discover new ones — like surveying this vast, lively city from the observation deck of the 45-storey Torre Latinoamericana looming over Palacio de Bellas Artes, and savouring the best ever salsa roja and chilaquiles at the modest, new Comal Oculto, near Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest city parks in Mexico. Sadly, hopes of viewing the Frida Kahlo collection at the Museo Dolores Olmedo were dashed — it’s permanently closed, alas.
WHERE TO STAY
Walkable Condesa, with its parks, fountains, pampered pups and abundant coffee and food options, is where we like to set up base and Casa Decu fits the bill perfectly. We love the urban vistas and Art Deco feel of the 27 mostly-suites rooms of this revamped four- storey hotel built in the 1930s. For more-private boutique lodgings, opt for the nine-room Ignacia Guest House in Roma Norte.
MORNING IN THE CENTRO
Breakfast rituals are important in Mexico. At the gracious El Cardenal, old-school waiters bustle around the room, proffering baskets laden with just-out-of-the-oven conchas and other pastries. Breakfast mains like huevos divorciados and revueltos are served with bolillos (mini baguettes) and the softest tortillas imaginable, wrapped in pristine white cloth napkins.
ART AND DESIGN
The sounds of the hurdy-gurdy players busking outdoors are not far away from Centro Historic’s Secretaría Educación Pública, where serene courtyards showcase Diego Rivera’s murals chronicling Mexico’s history. Painted in mostly muted colours and chiaroscuro, Rivera’s works include one centred on Frida Kahlo wearing a bandolier and handing out guns. Meanwhile, Kahlo’s Casa Azul is an obligatory pilgrimage stop for first-time visitors to the city. And architecture/ design buffs should drop by Casa Luis Barragán, in the residential neighbourhood of Tacubaya, where the prominent architect’s studio is adjacent to his home and its lush gardens.
COFFEE. PLEASE. CAFÉ. POR FAVOR.
Before setting out for the day, we’d always gravitate to Chiquitito Café, minutes from Casa Decu. In between the people-watching, the dog-watching, the musicians serenading patrons at 9 a.m. and the terrific coffee, we’d sip our cortados and pretend we were locals who live down the street. As for late afternoon caffeine, natural wine, trout conservas and knockout cakes, the cozy outdoor and indoor seating at Café Trucha quickly became our preferred option.
Lunch starts mid-afternoon in Mexico City, though no one will fault you for wanting to get a head start. We can’t come to CDMX without dining at Contramar for the house ceviche, caldo de camarón and those sublime tuna tacos (silky fish on crispy tostadas). And because our visit coincides with Mexico’s Independence Day, we had to have seafood chiles en nogada — poblano peppers stuffed with crab, shrimp and octopus, napped in a fresh, creamy walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. Chef Gabriela Cámara came by to make sure we liked the dish.
CHOCOLATE, INCLUDING THE DRINKING KIND
We know about washed, fermented and non-fermented coffee beans but hadn’t realized the same techniques can be applied to cocoa. La Rifa Chocolatería is pioneering these methods, so we sampled some of their locally sourced beans — chocolate the drink (hot or cold) and the bars — buying a few of the latter (studded with nuts, seeds and cocoa nibs) as well as some drinking chocolate powder.
DAY DRINKING LOVE THE VINO
If the small, cutting-edge art gallery Kurimanzutto is open, a seven-minute walk through it will take you to Brutal Vinata de Barrio — a new and very promising wine bar owned by French wine distributor Alexandre Langlois. Langlois has got a good thing going in this quiet Chapultepec- adjacent neighbourhood, with his huge range of European and Mexican wines, including natural options, to complement light dishes prepped by a Chilean chef.
THERE MUST BE TACOS!
Nothing beats quasi street stall Taquería El Greco, with its signature Doneraky taco served on a crisp-edged pan arabe. But the best taco tastings occurred on our food tours — a daytime stroll in the Centro with Culinary Backstreets and the night crawl in the Aeronáutica Militar neighbourhood with Mexico Underground. These folks know where to get the best guizados (stews), carne asada (grilled beef ) and tacos de canasta, pastor and birria.
NIGHTLIFE AND MEZCAL
San Luis Club in Roma Sur really is retro — it’s been around for more than 80 years — and still offering live music and dancing until 4 a.m. But if bailando is not your thing, end your evening on a quieter note at mezcal bar La Clandestina, where the pink-lit barrels of mezcal guide you to the bar, the bartenders know every bottle in the house, and it’s very hard to leave.
By Ivy Lerner-Frank